Two hard-trying steeplechasers named Brasher

July 21st, 2021

The name may not ring a bell to many Americans, but in the world of British running, not many names are more important than Chris Brasher.

Though Brasher didn't run the first four-minute mile, he was an integral part of it. Brasher met Roger Bannister during university. When Bannister made his historic four-minute mile attempt on May 6, 1954, Brasher was his pacemaker for the first two laps.

Grateful for Bannister's recognition as a pacemaker but eager to make athletic history on his own merit, Brasher set his sights on 1956 Olympic gold. He didn't have the natural skill of Bannister or even of Christopher Chataway, the later pacemaker from the four-minute mile attempt, who was a world-class long-distance runner.

But Brasher had determination.

He set his sights on the 3,000-meter steeplechase and got to training. He was the third-string steeplechaser for Great Britain, but he made the team. He traveled to Australia six weeks early to acclimatize to the new surroundings. He qualified for the final, after a fourth-place finish in his heat. He went to see a western movie the day before the final, then lined up with a plan — start to sprint 300 meters from the finish.

The plan worked. Brasher began his sprint as planned. He grazed Norwegian runner Ernst Larsen as he passed over the fourth-last hurdle, ran down Hungarian Sandor Rozsnyoi, and widened the gap. Brasher was originally disqualified for clipping Larsen, but upon review by judges that night, it became official — Brasher won gold for Great Britain, its first Olympic track and field gold since 1936.

After he earned his gold medal, he remained involved in many facets of sports. He served as sports editor for The Observer, and a reporter for Tonight, on the BBC. 

He was also the namesake of a racehorse, Brasher. Quite fittingly, the son of Fortina was born in 1956, the same year Chris Brasher won his Melbourne gold. Also appropriately, for a horse named after a steeplechase gold medalist, Brasher was at his best over the jumps.

Trained by Tommy Robson, Brasher was at his best during his nine-year-old season, in 1965. He won the Grand National Trial at Catterick and the Scottish Grand National at Bogside.

Brasher also ran a gallant second in the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, behind one of the greatest chasers of all time, Arkle. Brasher stayed in closest range throughout and even occasionally got his head in front. Though Arkle had more in the end, Brasher was still well clear of the rest and tried as hard as his human namesake to make the best of it.

Brasher will always be notable in the history of the Scottish Grand National. His win was the final edition at Bogside, where the race had been contested since 1867. The next year, the race moved to Ayr, where it is still run.

For decades after Brasher's grand day at Bogside, Chris Brasher continued to shine in the British running world. As a sporting entrepreneur, he opened Chris Brasher's Sporting Emporium in 1971 and partnered with John Disley to start sporting goods distributor Fleetfoot Limited. In 1978, he designed the Brasher Boot, a walking boot intended to be as comfortable as a running shoe.

In 1981, Chris Brasher and Disley founded what would make them immortal in the world of British running, the London Marathon, still one of the top marathons in the world.

A Brasher remains involved with the London Marathon to this day. Chris's son, Hugh, is the race director.